Why I Started a Music Program at an Impoverished School

By, Valerie Mulvey

“Why would you want to teach in that area? Those kids don’t care.”

“Why music? You know that’s the first thing that’s cut from a school’s budget.”

As I embark on my career as a first year music teacher in a highly impoverished Chicago Public School, these are the questions that are directed to me on a daily basis. Barton Elementary School is located on the South Side of Chicago in the Auburn Gresham community. 98% of my students in grades K-8 come from families with an income less than $23,920 for a family of four. Gangs and drugs are a reality in the community and school is a safe haven from this type of activity. The question still remains, why do I want to teach in this type of community, and why music?

I was lucky enough to grow up in an upper-middle class Chicago suburb where music was not just a luxury, it was part of the curriculum. I began violin lessons in third grade and fell in love with orchestra and music in general. As I began my music degree at DePaul University in Chicago, I was shocked that many Chicago Public Schools did not have music as part of the curriculum.

Music has such a connection to everyday life and the world in which we live. It connects us to our own bodies, feelings, and thoughts. It enables connections between different individuals: between people making music together, between the musician and his audience, between the musician and the composer, between listeners whose identities are shaped by the same music, and between those of different cultures and eras. Music aids in defining one’s own cultural identity and it is a way in which it is also transcended.

As a music instructor, my preeminent goal is to help students make their own meaningful connection with music of the past, while guiding them towards an enriched future. They may connect with the music on many different levels: different students connect in different ways, but unless that connection occurs, my teaching has little meaning.

Objectives like this can be achieved through a variety of mediums: listening to, reading about, performing, and seeing a variety of different music styles. Ultimately, this connection with music should enrich students’ aesthetic experience in life and encourage their growth towards personal maturity.

I have chosen to work in an impoverished community as that is where I feel I can make the biggest difference. I am building Barton’s music program from the ground up; they currently do not have funding for any instruments, CD’s, or music books. I hope to create a quality music education program so my students are provided with the same wonderful experience I encountered as a child. I love music; I learn music; and therefore I dedicate my life to teaching music. I hope my students will gain a lifelong connection to music and achieve a deeper understanding of both themselves and the world in which they live.

Valerie Mulvey is a first year teacher at Barton Elementary School, a Chicago Public School. She earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Music Education and Master’s Degree in Elementary Education from DePaul University in Chicago, Il. Prior to her teaching career, she spent over three years as a Senior Recruiter for the Richard Michael Group.

To donate to Valerie’s classroom, check out her classroom project at donorschoose.org.

Ms. Career Girl

Ms. Career Girl was started in 2008 to help ambitious young professional women figure out who they are, what they want and how to get it.

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